David Eby, Attorney General, has released the following statement to recognize Access to Justice Week, Jan. 24 to Jan. 30, 2021:
“As we mark Access to Justice Week, we have a chance to reflect on how far we’ve come over a very challenging 12 months.
“When COVID-19 hit the province early last year, the courts and government moved quickly to limit the impact on British Columbians while following public health advice to maintain access to justice under our ‘new normal.’
“We’ve made significant changes as a result of the pandemic, from adjusting courtrooms for physical distancing to introducing new technologies to resolve cases virtually. We’ve seen rapid – and much needed – transformation in our courts, with new systems for virtual filings and hearings so people have more options to resolve their issues.
“This change is not limited to our courts. Over the last three years, we’ve increased funding for legal aid by $26 million to give more British Columbians access to legal advice and representation, and to reduce court backlogs.
“Alongside this, we’ve expanded a new family law early resolution and case management model – first launched in Victoria – to Surrey. This will help those with family law matters get the services and supports they need to resolve their disputes more quickly and, where possible, outside of the courtroom. The results in Victoria have been dramatic for families who see results faster and more efficiently so they can move on with their lives.
“We’ve also made progress on our commitment to address the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system. Working in partnership with the Provincial Court, local First Nations and the local chartered Métis association, in December we announced the opening of the Williams Lake Indigenous Court – the seventh dedicated Indigenous Court in British Columbia. An eighth Indigenous Court will open in Hazelton this year. The Province’s independent prosecution service also recently announced new and revised policies for Crown counsel after consultation with BC First Nations Justice Council, Métis Nation BC and BC Corrections, to combat over-representation of Indigenous peoples as part of their Indigenous Justice Framework.
“In addition, three Indigenous justice centres have been created in Merritt, Prince George and Prince Rupert in partnership with the BC First Nations Justice Council. These centres are part of a broader BC First Nations Justice Strategy that was launched in March 2020. They are helping to improve access to justice and offering culturally appropriate legal advice and supports to ensure better outcomes for local Indigenous communities.
“I am grateful to the above-noted organizations, including Legal Aid BC and the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of British Columbia, which have also been involved in this work.
“I would like to give thanks to staff at B.C. courts and those at my ministry who have come together to find innovative solutions to address the challenges presented by COVID-19. Without their dedication, these reforms would not have been possible. Our work to increase access to justice for British Columbians continues as we embark on a new year with some groundbreaking changes ahead for our justice system.”